Accessibility

Importance of Livestock Farming in the Hills Highlighted

The message that livestock farming in Scotland’s hills and mountains can create productive larders for quality beef and lamb as well as delivering environmental benefits, was highlighted at an event near Fort William.

Speaking at the “Vision for Scotland’s Hills and Mountains” event at Benavie, organised jointly by the Lochaber Monitor Farm and NFU Scotland, Claudia Rowse, Head of Rural Resources Unit, Scottish Natural Heritage, said the role of farmers and crofters in delivering environmental benefits needs to be properly recognised.

“We at SNH strongly believe that the role farmers take in managing their land to benefit nature and wildlife should be recognised,” she told the packed-out event near Fort William attended by more than 70 farmers and crofters.

Ms Rowse, who took a series of questions from farmers attending, said that in her view it is vital that farmers and environmentalists work together to inform those who might doubt the value hill farming delivers to nature in Scotland’s hills and mountains.

“We’ll accomplish so much more by working together to benefit both farming and nature. We share many of the same goals, and we’re committed to supporting farmers to be as environmentally friendly as possible and encourage wildlife on their farms.,” she added.

Attendees heard from a range of expert speakers who explored different views on the future use of Scotland’s hills and mountains – from the environmental perspective to the market opportunities.

Among the other key speakers were Donald Cameron MSP, Laurent Vernet of Quality Meat Scotland and Jonnie Hall of NFU Scotland.

Angus MacFadyen, of Bragleenmore Farm, Oban set the scene for the day by posing some challenging questions to farmers and crofters attending. 

“We need to consider our stock, our support and our product.  Are our stock as good as we can get them?  Should we be making more of technology like EBVs? Do we need to change? Are we properly qualified?” he asked.

In other countries farmers are, he said, really taking on EBVs and performance recording.

“In Norway, for example, no tup gets used unless it has a good set of figures behind it, and this has definitely taken them forward. Sheep there are very much considered environmental animals and there are payments for sheep going up to graze in the mountains in the summer,” said Mr MacFadyen.

He said Scottish hill farmers were also doing an excellent environmental job but the challenge was how to translate that public good into income.

“I am very optimistic about the future. We can turn these hills into productive larders for sheep and cattle – it’s a highly skilled job and opportunities definitely exist because I am confident there will be demand for our products going forward,” he said.

Laurent Vernet, Director of Strategic Engagement with Quality Meat Scotland, shared this view.

“Hill lamb is a product which is very different and there will be opportunities for it going forward but it needs to be from a properly finished animal, not just a store animal,” said Mr Vernet.

The size of hill lamb from Scotland could met the requirements of some markets in the UK and overseas, he said.

A good example can be seen in Iceland, he said, which has the biggest head of sheep to population ratio and highest consumption of lamb per capita in Western Europe.

“In Iceland they have a small lamb which they have succeeded in aggressively marketing and is now much sought after around the word,” added Mr Vernet.

The idea to host the “vision” meeting came from the Lochaber Monitor Farm management group. Lochaber is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The next meeting of the Lochaber Monitor Farm is on March 15th. For more

info please contact Niall Campbell or Morven MacArthur on 01631 563093 or email fbsoban@sac.co.uk.